Malcolm Butler's interception sealed New England’s win in Super Bowl XLIX and gave millions of football fans a play they will never forget
The Super Bowl LII offensive showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots produced many memorable moments, but which ones will stand the test of time? You could ask 10 people their top 10 moments in Super Bowl history and you would get 10 different lists. The following are my unbiased, consensus-less 50 greatest moments in Super Bowl history. (Note: I did not include halftime shows or commercials)
50. Super Bowl XX: The Fridge Scores a Touchdown
With his Bears leading the Patriots 37-3, head coach Mike Ditka sent defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry in to smash into the end zone for another score. It had no significance on the game, but it was definitely memorable.
49. Super Bowl XI: Willie Brown Returns Interception for Touchdown
The Raiders dominated the Vikings throughout this entire game, but Brown put the nail in the coffin when he intercepted Fran Tarkenton’s pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
48. Super Bowl XXIX: Steve Young Completes Sixth Touchdown Pass
A seven-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice in the fourth quarter was an achievement that would have been remarkable in any game, much less a Super Bowl.
47. Super Bowl I: Max McGee Scores First Touchdown in Super Bowl History
When Packer receiver Boyd Dowler went down with a separated shoulder, he was replaced by McGee, who caught a one-handed pass and raced into the end zone for the first score in Super Bowl history. It was later revealed that he was hung-over when he accomplished that feat.
46. Super Bowl XXXV: Three Touchdowns in 36 Seconds
Baltimore led New York 10-0 in the third quarter, but sealed its victory in less than a minute. First, Ravens defensive back Duane Stark returned an interception for a touchdown. Giant Ron Dixon then returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, but Baltimore’s Jermaine Lewis responded with one as well. One of the greatest defenses in pro football history had a 24-7 advantage.
45. Super Bowl IV: 65 Toss Power Trap
Up 9-0 on the Vikings, Chiefs head coach Hank Stram called the play “65 Toss Power Trap” and Mike Garrett ran into the end zone for the touchdown. The play is immortalized because Stram was miked for sound (starts around 2:00 mark of video below).
44. Super Bowl I: The Hammer is Hammered
Defensive back and future “Blaxploitation” movie star Fred Williamson, aka “The Hammer,” said in an interview that “two hammers would be enough” to stop Packers receivers Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler. Williamson was actually the one knocked out of the game when his head hit the knee of running back Donny Anderson. The irony was not lost on the football world.
43. Super Bowl XVII: Fulton Walker’s Record Return
With his Dolphins tied 10-10 with the Redskins shortly before halftime, Walker returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. At the time, it was the longest kick return in Super Bowl history.
42. Super Bowl XXI: Phil McConkey Catches Tipped Touchdown Pass
Trailing the Broncos 10-9 at the end of the first half, the Giants scored 30 unanswered points in the second. The most memorable was a touchdown pass that bounced off Mark Bavaro’s fingertips into McConkey’s hands.
41. Super Bowl XXXI: Brett Favre’s Celebrates His First Touchdown
After completing his first touchdown pass, a 54-yard strike to Andre Rison, Brett Favre took his helmet off and ran around the field in celebration. The genuine excitement is one of the reasons why we always loved to watch Favre play.
40. Super Bowl XVIII: Here I am, I’m your Rocket Screen
Down 14-3 shortly before halftime, Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs told quarterback Joe Theismann to run a play called “Rocket Screen,” but Raiders linebacker Jack Squirek leapt in midair to intercept his pass and ran it into the end zone for the touchdown. The Redskins never recovered from the play.
39. Super Bowl VI: Bob Griese is Sacked for a 29-Yard Loss
In the first half, the Dolphins quarterback took the snap on his own 38-yard line and kept scrambling until Cowboy Bob Lilly finally brought down Griese all the way back on his own nine-yard line. It remains the longest yardage loss from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.
38. Super Bowl XXIII: Stanford Jennings Returns Kickoff for Touchdown
After San Francisco kicked a field goal to tie Cincinnati 6-6 in the third quarter, Stanford Jennings took the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. It was the Bengals’ only touchdown and almost proved to be the difference. Almost.
37. Super Bowl XLVIII: The Broncos Open First Drive with a Safety
On the first play from scrimmage, Peyton Manning lined up in a shotgun formation but called an audible. As he moved forward, center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball and it flew past Manning. Knowshon Moreno recovered the ball in the end zone for a Seattle safety. The quickest score in Super Bowl history (12 seconds) set the tone for the rest of the game.
36. Super Bowl XXVI: Thurman Thomas Loses His Helmet
When the Bills’ celebrated offense took the field against the Redskins, they were missing their star running back. Thomas couldn’t find his helmet because someone had moved it during the pregame festivities. He only missed two plays but the story of the best running back in the NFL trying to find his helmet in the biggest game of the year is hard to forget.
35. Super Bowl XV: The Superdome Sports a Big Yellow Ribbon
During the Iran hostage crisis from 1979-81, wearing a yellow ribbon symbolized that you wanted those Americans held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to be freed. The Louisiana Superdome got in the act by displaying a gigantic ribbon on its exterior before the big game five days after the hostages were freed. It represented a true moment of national solidarity.
34. Super Bowl X: Jack Lambert Tosses Cliff Harris to the Ground
Down 10-7 to the Cowboys, Steelers kicker Roy Gerela lined up for a 33-yard field goal and missed his second attempt of the game. When Cowboy safety Cliff Harris mocked him, Lambert tossed him to the ground. He was not ejected and it fired the Steelers up.
33. Super Bowl XLIII: James Harrison Returns Goal Line Interception for Touchdown
The zone blitz was in full effect 18 seconds before halftime. Down 10-7 to the Steelers, Cardinal quarterback Kurt Warner lined up on the Pittsburgh one-yard line and fired a pass to Anquan Boldin, but linebacker James Harrison intercepted it and ran 99 yards for a touchdown with no time remaining. The shocking play ultimately made the difference in the game’s outcome.
32. Super Bowl II: Vince Lombardi is Carried Off the Field
After trouncing the Raiders 33-14, the Packers carried head coach Vince Lombardi off the field. It would be his last game as head coach of the Packers. Lombardi would spend one more season in Green Bay as the general manager before coaching the Redskins in 1969 prior to his passing in September 1970. The image of him being carried off the field is how many us of prefer to remember him.
31. Super Bowl XXVIII: Emmitt Smith Takes Control
After going in at halftime down 13-6 to the Bills, the Cowboys tied the game and then put together a 64-yard touchdown drive. Smith accounted for 61 of those yards. When he smashed into the end zone, Smith gave what may have been the most animated celebration of his career.
30. Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth Touchdown Drop a Bomb on the Rams
Down 19-17 to the Los Angeles Rams and facing third down with eight yards to go in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw hit Stallworth deep in the middle of the field and he raced into the end zone for a 73-yard score. The Steelers never trailed again.
29. Super Bowl XLIX: Jermaine Kearse’s Amazing Catch
Down 28-24 to the Patriots, the Seahawks had time for one final drive. Seattle made it down to New England’s five-yard line thanks to a Russell Wilson pass intended for Jermaine Kearse that was initially deflected by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. Despite the sound play by Butler, the ball managed to deflect right into Kearse’s hands, who made the critical catch lying on the ground. Kearse got off the turf and kept running, as Butler saved the touchdown by pushing the Seahawk receiver out of bounds and was ultimately vindicated a few plays later.
28. Super Bowl XXVII: Leon Lett Celebrates Too Early
The Cowboys were killing the Bills when Lett recovered a fumble and ran towards the end zone. When he got to the 10-yard line, he slowed down and held the ball out to showboat. Bills wide receiver Don Beebe caught up with him and knocked the ball out of his hands into the end zone for a touchback. Lett’s big mistake was slowing down.
27. Super Bowl XIII: Jackie Smith is the Sickest Man in America
Smith was one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. It is a shame that he is remembered for dropping a touchdown pass in the last game of his career, but that is the tragic side of the Super Bowl. Down 21-14 to the Steelers on third down in the third quarter, Roger Staubach threw a pass to Smith in the end zone, which he dropped. Cowboys’ radio announcer Verne Lundquist immortalized the play when he said, “Bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America.”
26. Super Bowl XXX: Larry Brown Snags Two Picks
Brown became an unlikely Super Bowl MVP when he intercepted two Neil O’Donnell passes in the second half. The Steelers quarterback was under heavy pressure from the Cowboys and the passes seemed to be thrown directly to Brown, but as the Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
25. Super Bowl III: Joe Namath Raises His Finger
After upsetting the Colts, the generally loquacious Jets quarterback did not need to say anything. He simply raised his forefinger as he ran off the field to tell the crowd what they already know.
24. Super Bowl XXI: The “Original” Gatorade Shower
There is a bit of disagreement over who actually started the Gatorade shower, but one thing’s for certain: it became a tradition after the Giants did it to head coach Bill Parcells after beating the Broncos in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 25, 1987.
23. Super Bowl XXII: The Redskins Score 35 Points in the Second Quarter
Down 10-0 to the Broncos at the end of the first quarter, the Redskins put together the most lopsided quarter in the history of the Super Bowl. The numbers are unbelievable. The Redskins scored 35 unanswered points, as Doug Williams threw for 228 yards and four touchdowns and Ricky Williams ran for 122 yards and a touchdown. The game was over by halftime.
22. Super Bowl XXXI: Desmond Howard Seals Win with 99-Yard Kick Return
With his Packers holding a slim 27-21 lead in the third quarter, Howard returned a Patriots kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. The then-record return sealed the Packers’ victory and Howard’s MVP honors.
21. Super Bowl XLVII: The Lights Go Out in the Superdome
Baltimore led San Francisco 28-6 in the third quarter when a power outage cut many of the lights out in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game was suspended for 34 minutes and when the lights came back on, San Francisco staged a roaring comeback.
20. Super Bowl XVI: The Greatest Goal-Line Stand in Super Bowl History
Down 20-7 to San Francisco in the third quarter, the Bengals had the ball on the 49ers’ three-yard line. Cincinnati was unable to punch it in on four tries and half the 49er defense jumped in celebration. The other half collapsed in exhaustion.
19. Super Bowl XLIV: Sean Payton Surprises Colts with Second-Half Onside Kick
Down 10-6 with the Colts set to receive the ball at the start of the second half, Saints head coach Sean Payton surprised Indianapolis with an onside kick. New Orleans recovered and scored, thus shifting the momentum in the game.
18. Super Bowl VII: “Garo’s Gaffe”
Leading the Redskins 14-0 in the final minutes of the game, kicker Garo Yepremian lined up to kick a field goal that would have capped the Dolphins’ 17-0 season with a 17-0 win. Yepremian’s kick was too low and blocked. Yepremian then picked up the ball and attempted a pitiful pass, which was intercepted by cornerback Mike Bass, who ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. It remains the greatest folly in Super Bowl history.
17. Super Bowl XLVI: Mario Manningham Keeps Giants Alive with Spectacular Catch
Down 17-15 to the Patriots late in the fourth quarter, the Giants attempted one last drive. They were able to score thanks to a spectacular sideline catch by Manningham at midfield.
16. Super Bowl XVIII: Marcus Allen Runs with the Night
Marcus Allen rushed for 191 yards in this game, but his most memorable carry was a 74-yard touchdown on the last play of the third quarter. The play was best summed up by NFL Films’ John Facenda in his last voice-over work when he said, "As Washington's hopes faded into the dying daylight, on came Marcus Allen, running with the night."
15. Super Bowl V: Jim O’Brien Kicks the Game-Winning Field Goal
The game, also known as “The Blunder Bowl,” had a cornucopia of errors, but O’Brien’s game-winning kick in the final seconds gave it a thrilling finish.
14. Super Bowl XXV: Whitney Houston Sings an Amazing National Anthem
Nothing needs to be said, just listen.
13. Super Bowl XXXIV: Kevin Dyson is Tackled One Yard Short
"It is caught by Dyson. Can he get in? No, He Cannot! Mike Jones made the tackle...and the Rams have won the Super Bowl!" – Al Michaels
12. Super Bowl LII: Nick Foles Catches Touchdown Pass
The Eagles knew they would have to score early and often to beat the Patriots. Facing fourth down on New England’s one-yard line with less than a minute to go in the first half, Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson gambled on a trick play with tight end Trey Burton tossing a touchdown pass to Nick Foles that ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.
11. Super Bowl XVII: John Riggins Runs for a Touchdown on Fourth and One
Down 17-13 to the Dolphins and facing fourth-and-one with 10:10 left in the game, the Redskins gave the ball to John Riggins. Not only did Diesel get the first down, he barreled 57 yards into the end zone.
10. Super Bowl X: Lynn Swann Makes Leaping Catch
All four of Swann’s catches in this game were memorable, but his greatest was an acrobatic 53-yard reception in which he bobbled the ball in mid-air and came down with it.
9. Super Bowl XXXVI: Adam Vinatieri Kick Starts Patriots Dynasty
Tied 17-17 with the Rams, the Patriots got the ball back with less than 90 seconds left in the game. Instead of running out the clock, Tom Brady drove the team into field goal range and Vinatieri booted the game-winner as time expired. It was only the beginning.
8. Super Bowl XXV: Scott Norwood Kicks Wide Right
The closest game in Super Bowl history came down to a field goal attempt by the Bills. Kicker Scott Norwood lined up to attempt and his kick sailed wide right giving the Giants a 20-19 win.
7. Super Bowl XLIII: Santonio Holmes Seals Win with Picture-Perfect Catch
This game came down to a final drive by the Steelers that was punctuated with Holmes’ touchdown reception in which he went airborne in the corner of the end zone and managed to keep his feet in bounds after he landed.
6. Super Bowl XXXII: John Elway Goes Airborne
After losing three Super Bowls, Elway found himself tied 17-17 with the Packers in the third quarter. Facing third down and six yards to go with no open receivers, Elway scrambled and went airborne to pick up the first down. At that moment, it became clear that this night would be different for Elway and the Broncos.
5. Super Bowl XLIX: Malcolm Butler Saves Game with Goal-Line Interception
With Seattle on New England’s one-yard line with a few seconds left, it appeared that the Seahawks would emerge victorious. However, Butler saved the day with a perfect read and an unforgettable interception.
4. Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco’s 92-Yard Game-winning Drive
There have been numerous game-winning drives in the last 15 Super Bowls, but this 92-yard drive led by Joe Montana and punctuated with a pass to John Taylor was the first.
3. Super Bowl LI: The First Overtime
The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history tied the game at 28-28 sending it into overtime. Then the Patriots won the coin toss and took less than four minutes to drive down the field for the winning score.
2. Super Bowl III: Joe Namath Makes Bold Guarantee
A few days prior to the game, Namath made the bold guarantee that the Jets would win. The shot across the bow would be a footnote if he hadn’t backed it up... but he did.
1. Super Bowl XLII: David Tyree’s Helmet Catch
The fact that Eli Manning was able to break away from tacklers and throw this pass was remarkable. The way Tyree caught it made for the most incredible moment in the history of the big game.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)